In 1939 Poland surrendered and the Germans occupied the country. One day I was walking on Marszalkowska street in the center of Warsaw, when I met Yakov Rotman. He had come with 15 sacks of sugar from the town of Plock to Warsaw, where there was a great shortage of food. I had known Yakov before the war for many years.
I was born in Warsaw in 1914. My mother died at my birth, and I was raised by an aunt in Plock. We knew the Rotman family well – they bought a plot of land from my aunt and had built there home on it. They owned a building material business and a sawmill, and my aunt had bought materials from them when she redecorated her home. Several years later my aunt passed away and I was left alone. Yakov helped me sell the house and move to Warsaw to stay with distant relatives.
When the war broke out I was living in Warsaw in Moniuszki street, but the house was destroyed by the German bombings, and I rented an appartment in Mokotowska street. I was living there when I met Yakov in the street. He told me that in Plock the Germans were catching Jews in the streets, taking them to forced labor and often abusing them physically. I suggested that he should not return there, and that he stay in my apartment until he could find his own place. He was most moved and thanked me very much.
While we were sharing my place many Jews stayed in the apartment; they were Yacov's friends from Plock and the area who had escaped to Warsaw. The apartment was small, and they would sleep for one night or two on the floor, until they found a safe place. In October 1940 the Germans established a ghetto, and Jews were forbidden to stay on the Aryan side of town. Posters announcing the death penalty to whoever hid Jews were hung up everywhere. Yakov didn't want to risk my life and wanted to leave. I didn’t think much and decided that we would live through these terrible times together or die together. I went to the church and obtained my brother's baptism certificate. With that we had an identity card issued. From that moment Yakov Rotman ceased to exist and became Wladislaw Kaczmarczyk.
One day, while he was walking in the street with a friend, they were caught in the street. The Germans brought them to the railway station and intended to take them to forced labor in Germany. Yakov's friend managed to slip away and came to tell me about their arrest. I ran to the railway station, saw a group of men with a German armed guard waiting for a train. I approched the German and began to cry. I pleaded with him to let my husband, Władysław Kaczmarczyk, go. I said he was the only provider of the family, that I was ill and that we had a baby at home. The German took my ID card, saw that we had the same last name and looked at me –living in constant fear had caused me insomnia and loss of appetite and I was weighing 37 Kg. The German let him go. I was extremely happy, because I had thought that we would never see each other again.
One day a friend from Plock named Tomczak brought a Jewish woman who had escaped from the ghetto with her seven-year-old daughter. He was a second hand furniture salesman and they had been hiding in his storage room for a week. The man said that the Germans were showing interest in him and that he was afraid of the death penalty for aiding Jews. He asked us to hide them until he could find a safe arrangement. I felt sorry for the small girl and promised Fela Szulc (the mother) to get her Aryan papers. I went to the church and got the birth certificate of my sister who had died before the war. Fela Szulc became Wanda Kaczmarczyk. My family had grown again, and her daughter was Eugenia Jankowska. I found a job for Wanda with a family of ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche) by the name of Wagner, whom I knew from my Plock days. I intorduced Fela as my sister, and she had found a safe place.
Our quiet existence ended when someone denounced me to the police, claiming that I was helping Jews. A "blue uniformed policeman" (the Polish police) arrived at our home. I suspected that the janitor had denounced me. The policeman demanded money. I gave him a sum, but realized that this would not end the story and that I wouldn't be able to pay more.
At the same time the Germans liquidated the small ghetto and the appartments of its area came on the market. I managed to get a two room appartment in Ciepla street. We immediately left my appartment and moved to the new place. For safety sake I gave my forwarding address as Cicha and not Ciepla street. In the new apartment we arranged a hiding place in a cupboard behind removable boards. When there was danger Yakov could go and hide.
The winter of 1942-43 came. Fela's husband escaped from the ghetto and came to us. I now had to provide for two men. I found work at the Toebbens workshops, that produced shirts for the German army. I sewed buttons, although I was a bookkeeper by training. I didn't earn much, but with the ID I got from my employers I could move around without fearing to be caught by the Germans. This was most important because the two men who were hiding in my place could be sure that I would return home every day.
One day, as I was getting ready to leave for work, I heard a noise in the staircase. The Germans were looking for men for forced labor in the camps or in Germany. The two men in my apartment went into their hiding place. The Germans, accompanied by a Polish policeman, knocked on the door. I didn't want to let the Pole into my home, because the Poles were even more suspicious and curious than the Germans. I therefore said that I spoke German and didn't need an interpreter. The Germans sent the Polish policeman to the neighbors apartment. I showed them my ID and they seemed friendly. Cold-bloodedly I opened the cupboard [where the two men were hiding behind the boards] and showed them that it contained only clothes. Then we moved to the other room. They found a razor in the bathroom and asked who it belonged to. For one instant I froze, but then I answered that it belonged to my brother who was working in Helenow as a mechanic for a German, and who would visit me every weekend. (They wrote down my brother's name and I immediately contacted him to let him know what he should tell the Germans if they followed up. Indeed they came to see my brother the following day.)
After the Germans had left, I felt relief and collapsed on the sofa. Before I could regain my composure, there was another knock on the door. I opened the door and there they were again. This time they wanted to know who leaved in the apartment downstairs, because no one opened the door. I said that the neighbor went to work early in the morning, and his wife was going to her mother with the child, but that I didn't know their address. I knew that the apartment owner was a Ukrainian who was hiding a Jewish family – a paralyzed mother, a son and a five-year-old grandson. I thought to myself 'fortunately they didn’t open the door'. (I met the entire family in the shelter during the Warsaw uprising)
The uprising began in August 1944. We went down to the cellar. Warsaw was bombed and the German attack was brutal. We decided to move to the center of the city through the sewers. We parted from the Szulc family; they didn't want to come with us. (The Szulc family survived and went to England after the war). We left our apartment under the bombs and hid in the cellar of the storage rooms of the Brothers Bakulski in Krucza Street. It was a terrible battle. The Germans threw a bomb into our cellar. Several people were killed, and I was severely wounded. Yacov had been outside, preparing soup for everybody in the shelter. After the bombing he ran to look for me, and found me unconscious. He brought me to a field hospital where I stayed because I was badly wounded. I was worried about Yakov remaining on his own and asked the doctor to take him as a sanitary. The doctor agreed and Yakov's received a Red Cross certificate on the name of Wladyslaw Kaczmarczyk and helped at the hospital.
When Warsaw surrendered the Germans gave permission to evacuate the heavy casualties with the medical teams to Piastow near Pruszkow. Thus we were able to leave Warsaw. Yakov went to stay with my brother who was not far from Piastow. My brother took a cart and, after the Germans gave permission, took me to his home. Yakov was sent to a camp in Pruszkow with others from Warsaw. When he showed them the Red Cross certificate, they let him go. Thus he too arrived at my brother's place.
Having shared so much hardship, Yakov and I decided that we would be parted only by death. We married in 1946 in Plock, and a year later our daughter was born. We lived in Yakov's house in Plock for three years, and then moved to Warsaw.
My husband died in 1980 after three heart attacks, and I came to live with my daughter in Israel.
This ends my story.
Stanislawa Rotman (Kaczmarczyk)
10 May 1987